Barnard College’s “First Year Seminar Committee” has decided to use a grant from the Ford Foundation to encourage the faculty to use the works of “minority women” in their courses. So reports Herbert London in the Spring 1990 issue of Academic Questions, the journal of the National Association of Scholars. It seems that faculty members who put such works into their reading lists will receive a “stipend,” to be used, says Helena Foley, spokesman for the committee, “to buy time to discover and read works.” As Dean London says, this is simple bribery. Foundation money thus influences college affairs, in this case extending the influence of an otherwise insignificant fringe group. “Is it any wonder,” he asks, “the curriculum is in disarray and the defenders of Western civilization are often hiding in their office bunkers?”

The Barnard case will come as a surprise to those unfamiliar with the ways of today’s academic administrators and faculties, but in fact this kind of corruption has been going on for a decade or so. Here at Mount Holyoke College, where I teach, it appeared about fen years ago in the form of foundation grants meant to “encourage” (i.e., buy) the faculty’s participation in such things as interdisciplinary teaching and the development of courses in “quantitative reasoning,” “writing across the campus,” and what I guess we could call postmodern humanities. As at Barnard, participants received a “stipend.”

Payment has become a standard method of persuading a significant number of chosen faculty to support administrative policies. Since most of the money comes from foundations, and since colleges seldom do anything independently, I assume the practice is widespread. The payment can be as absurdly low as $100 for attending a seminar and reading a few books—which tells one something about faculty self-respect—and as high as about 10 percent of one’s salary for actually planning a new course. This makes a very nice payoff The money is routed through deans, presidents, and handpicked committees.

This form of corruption is so entrenched that by now perhaps a third of the faculty has received some of this money at some time. One consequence is that without bribery it is now difficult to get faculty to do anything beyond their basic teaching assignment. After all, what young professor is going to spend hours advising students or sitting on a busy college committee when he can earn approval as well as a “stipend” by reading a few books and attending a few meetings? On the other hand, for those faculty who persevere in researching and teaching in the central subjects of the curriculum, whether in the humanities or the sciences, virtue has to be its own reward. No matter how able they are, they will get little if any recognition from their administrative masters or from the would-be professors who amuse themselves with disbursing foundation funds to colleges.

Bribery, administered and received in raptures of high-mindedness, is one example of the corruption endemic in higher education. This, after all, is the profession that invented the seven-month year and the two-day week.